Over the next two years, Barack Obama will have to work with Republicans on Capitol Hill in order to get anything accomplished. If this week is any indication of how Obama handles political negotiation, Lindsey Graham tells National Review, he’s got a long way to go — and some growing up to do. After his eruption of namecalling aimed at the very people with whom Obama crafted the deal, Graham says that the GOP won’t be terribly inclined to extend Obama any trust in the future:
“By using rhetoric that calls us ‘hostage-takers,’ he believes, somehow, that the Left will give him some credit for hating us, or putting us in a bad light. But it just lowers him,” Graham says. “He is whining, and no one likes a whining president. . . . There is a lot of disappointment on our side. Quite frankly, this is going to be hard to forget.”
The American people, Graham says, “see weakness” in how the president has handled the agreement. “They see a guy who is unsure of himself, who is political to a fault. He’s always got his finger up in the air, and that’s not comforting.”…
“I like the president personally, but he’s whining to the Left about ‘You’re putting too much pressure on me,’ and he’s whining to us about making his life difficult,” Graham continues. “What he ought to do is say ‘I support this deal, it’s the best thing for the country, it’s not what I would like in a perfect world, but I stand by it and I’m going to sell it the best I can and put America ahead of anything else.’ That means you don’t belittle your opponent or attack your base for having differences with you — triangulate without making everyone mad.”
It sounded as if Obama thought he could come across as a tough guy by griping at his press conference, but that’s not the way it works, in politics or anywhere else. Graham framed his whininess as “political immaturity,” but I’m not sure that requires a qualifier. After all, Obama called the GOP to make the deal in the first place — and as events yesterday and today amply demonstrate, it’s because only the GOP were willing to negotiate in good faith. After doing so, Obama knew that he was going to get slammed by his side, and decided to act tough by namecalling while essentially admitting he surrendered. That can be described in many different ways, but leadership isn’t one of them, and the personal weakness it displays isn’t limited to politics.
And it will have consequences for Obama, and perhaps not just among Republicans. After all, Obama attacked his own party’s leadership, both at that press conference and then through subsequent leaks. If everyone who engages with Obama ends up getting attacked in personal terms, Obama will find that his writ won’t run in either caucus as it did in 2009. People looked up to Obama when they perceived him as a leader, a transformational figure in politics who lived above the petty bickering in the Beltway. He will become irrelevant if he descends further into pettiness, whining, and bickering than everyone else in Congress.
Graham’s assessment is couched in polite terms, but the message is clear. Obama is not only in over his head on policy, he’s in over his head in the political game as well. That is a rather predictable result from putting a short-term backbencher into the biggest executive job there is.